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  • Writer's pictureSim Elliott

Fulmars - Observation 3 (15/01/2021)

Updated: May 16, 2021

(a) Morning. 10.15-10.30

Time observation started:10.15

Time observation stopped: 10.30

Weather: 6 C; 9mph southerly wind; rain

Total number of Fulmars seen: None

(b) Afternoon 15.40-16.30

Weather: 5C; 9 mph southerly wind; sky clear (sunny)

Total number of Fulmars seen: ca. 15

(As the Fulmars were continuously flying off from the cliffs and returning, it was very difficult to count them reliable)


Afternoon. 10-15 birds - individually or in pairs or threes - flying in circles out to sea, and back to the cliffs but not landing. Fulmars visible for all of the circular flights; did not ravel further than ca. 1K from cliffs, no Fulmars observed diving for food

Fulmars are pelagic (meaning they live entirely at sea) outside of their breeding months. When they’re hunting (as opposed to scavenging) they are ocean divers, plunging several metres under the water to nab prey, or plucking them out from just under the surface Fulmar | Facts, pictures & more about Fulmar (

From 15.45 started settling on the cliffs in pairs, facing each other. Pairs interacted, looking at each other, moving beaks around each other, at a times producing a loud chattering squawk.

Some Fulmars perched in hollows in the cliffs or on clumps of vegetation, singularly or in pairs.

Northern Fulmars are monogamous and mate for life—and they can live about 60 years. They are famously faithful to their nest sites as well: one study found that more than 99% of birds returned to the previous season’s nest site with the same mate. They nest in colonies ranging from a few pairs to many thousands, and their nests may be just a few feet apart. When a pair returns to its nest cliff in spring, male and female display to one another by stretching out their necks and wagging their heads back and forth rhythmically, giving a cackling call. They also preen one another. They gather at the nest site and mate often, and males fend off any rival males at this time. The pair then departs the nest site for several weeks, during which time the female eats well, to obtain enough calcium to produce her single egg. The male usually begins incubation as soon as the female lays her egg, so she can return to sea to feed and regain strength. The parents take turns traveling to sea and provisioning the chick, which leaves the nest cliff soon after fledging. Fulmar parents generally forage in the vicinity of their colonies but sometimes travel more than 600 miles round trip to procure food for the nestling. After the nesting season, fulmars, disperse toward traditionally productive foraging grounds and spend the rest of the year on the open ocean. Because their prey resources shift during the nonbreeding season, the birds must move around quite a bit to stay nourished. Northern Fulmar Life History, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology


Historiography of reporting on Fulmars in published books on birds of Sussex

William Borrer (1891) The Birds of Sussex

Fulmar Petrel; Fulmairs glacialis

The appearances of the Fulmar are exceedingly rare on our coast. I have in my own collection a specimen which was found dead on the beach, near Brighton, on Oct 7, 1852, and Mr Dennis told me that he obtained another, which was washed up alive on the shore under Seaford Head, December 21, 1858, and was roughly stuffed by a bricklayer. This had been wounded by shot, one of its legs having been shattered, but it was healed when taken. It was restuffed by Mr Pratt. The Fulmar keeps for the most part at a considerable distance from the land.

In the 'Zoologist' for 1887 (p. 28), Mr F. V. Theobald records a specimen picked up in an exhausted state near Rye a year before, and shown to him by a bird-stuffer at St. Leonards. Mr Parkin (p.n.) has the following:- "Fulmar Petrel picked up dead on the beach between Winchelsea and Fairlight. Brought to Mr. Sorrel, of Hastings, for preservation. The bird was in a very emaciated condition, and seemed as if had been starved". All the specimens mentioned were obtained after heavy gales.

In St Kilda the Fulmar breeds in countless numbers, selecting for the site of its nest places where the cliff, always though very precipitous, is covered with grass, sorrel, and other plants, and in some parts of these cliffs the ground is almost white with sitting Fulmars. The birds often makes a hole sufficient to conceal it. The nests are very slight, and are often dispensed with altogether. More generally a little dry grass is the only material used. This bird when handled emits a quantity of oil, and the whole bird is impregnated with a scent which has been compared to exaggerated musk, so strong that it still retains it even though it may have been stuffed for years. It is a very voracious feeder, robbing the herring nets, and seizing on masses of blubber even when the men are engaged in fishing a whale."

C. F. Tuncliffe, R.A., (1957) Bird Portraits (Brooke Bond tea cards)

Fulmar Petrel. A gull-like bird with a peculiar bill, legs so weak that they are scarcely capable of supporting the bird, and a wonderful gliding flight which serves it well, for it is an oceanic wanderer. Before 1878 it was unknown in Britain, except on the lonely island of St Kilda. Since that date it has extended its breeding territory, and may be found nesting on many high cliffs around Britain. It lays one white egg on very skimpy nest material on a cliff ;edge. It is a very oily bird, and one of its methods of self-protection is to squirt a jet of oil at its enemy.

G. des Forges and D.D. Harber (1963) A Guide to the Birds of Sussex

Fulmar: Fulmaris glacialis

Non-breed summer visitor. Possibly passage migrant. Winter vagrant. Before 1945 winter vagrant only.

Numbers are difficult to estimate as most records are of single birds e.g. during the summer of 1951 there were fifteen such records. There are relatively few records of two birds being seen together though parties of up to five have been recorded.

All records are form the coast.

The earliest spring date is March 18th (1961, Beachy Head), but the species is not usually recorded earlier than April and most records have been for May and June with a few for the first week of July. There are seven records for August, three for September and one for October (26th, 1956, off the Wicks). One was seen at Brighton on December 12th. 1954, and one at Beachy Head on February 7th 1948. There are about six old records of dead birds washed ashore between October and March.

Michael Shrubb (1979) The Birds of Sussex: Their Present Status

Fulmar - Fulmaris gacialis

Status: Summer visitor, probably passage migrant' winter vagrant. Prior to 1945. a winter vagrant only, thus a considerable increase has occurred recently.

Birds were seen on the cliffs in East Sussex as early as 1950, but despite a considerable increase in numbers, breeding was not proved until 1976. The largest summering group is found at Beachy Head, where up to five were noted prospecting on 1961, and numbers built up steadily to a maximum of 38 apparent pairs in 1972. Since 1965 prospecting birds have also been noted regularly at other localities on the chalk and east of Hastings. There were over 100 birds summering in 1976. The birds arrive on the cliffs in January and February and stay until June or July, and are presumably the same birds are recorded right along the coast. Curiously 90 per cent. of all Fulmars recorded at Selsey Bill have been flying west.

The species is uncommon in August and September, although the numbers of records is increasing, and is distinctly rare from October through December, when only seven were recorded between 1961 and 1974. However, in 1975 the Beachy Head population returned on 28 December, and this species' pattern of occurrence is still changing rapidly.

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